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Prison sentences for picking wild flowers under EU green laws

UK Daily Mail | February 7, 2007  

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Dumping hazardous waste, polluting protected areas and collecting wild flowers would all be punishable by jail and hefty fines under new plans for EU-wide 'green crimes'.

The drive by Brussels to extend its lawmaking powers into criminal areas was revealed by the leak of a draft directive listing a string of offences.

Company directors could be disqualified and firms forced to clean up if negligence is proved.

The nine offences detailed in the directive include the 'taking or damaging' of wild flowers, damage to protected habitats and trading in ozone-depleting substances.

Company directors would be made personally liable for pollution and could face jail or antisocial behaviour orders.

Offences such as serious pollution or unlawful transport of nuclear and hazardous substances would carry a jail sentence of two to five years. If death or criminal gangs are involved, the prison sentence would rise to 10 years.

Some EU states such as Britain already have criminal sanctions for breaches of environmental laws, but campaigners have long called for an Europe-wide approach, complaining that firms can move their business from one country with high environmental standards to others with weaker controls.

Fines for companies would range close to £1 million but firms could also be forced to be wound up and excluded from EU aid systems.

The move follows a landmark European Court ruling in 2005 which sidestepped the historic right of national parliaments to decide what constitutes a crime and how it ought to be punished.

EU environment commissioner Stavros Dimas also decided to act after a European ship dumped toxic waste off the coast of Africa last year, killing 10 people.

The directive says: "Experience has shown that the existing systems of sanctions have not been sufficient to achieve complete compliance with laws for the protection of the environment.

"Such compliance can and should be strengthened by the application of criminal sanctions.

"Criminal sanctions are not in force in all member states for all serious environmental offences, even though only criminal penalties will have a sufficiently dissuasive effect."

Brian Hall of law firm Clifford Chance said today that the threat of personal liability "concentrates the minds of people when they see they could be taken away in chains".

John Sauven, acting executive director of Greenpeace, said: "If this is going to ratchet up the standards and make them applicable across Europe, then that would be very beneficial."

 

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